SYDNEY, Australia – The series is tied at the halfway point. Australia and India have been surpassed by New Zealand atop the test cricket rankings.
There’s quarantine and travel restrictions. Now there’s tension.
Australia captain Tim Paine let it be known on the eve of the third test at the Sydney Cricket Ground that the gloves are off. Rumours about the India squad’s discontent with hotel isolation and reluctance to travel to Brisbane to play the fourth test at the Gabba next week have opened up a little bit of acrimony that has been apparently absent in the first two test matches of the series.
“It’s boiling away, there’s some stuff starting to happen, a bit of chat starting to happen,” Paine said Wednesday. “This test is going to be fascinating not just from a cricket point of view.
“There’s a bit of tension starting to boil under the surface with unnamed sources coming out from their camp saying where they want to play the fourth test and where they don’t want to go. I think it’s starting to grind a few people.“
India won a test series on Australian soil for the first time on its last tour Down Under in 2018, and there were few signs of any bitter rivalry that tainted its previous visit.
Australia’s eight-wicket win in a day-night test in Adelaide to open this series and India’s equalizing eight-wicket win in Melbourne were played in good spirits.
India’s standing as the financial powerhouse of the sport meant speculation about the squad’s apparent reluctance to play what could be a series-deciding test at the Gabba, where Australia hasn’t lost a test since 1988, was taken seriously by Paine’s lineup.
It caused a “bit of uncertainty,” Paine said. ”Because when you hear things like that coming, particularly from India who we
know hold a lot of power in world cricket, it’s likely that it could happen.
“So for us we just want to be really clear on this test match. We’re going to focus on that this week then whatever happens never week … we’ll adapt to it.“
There’ll be changes to both lineups for the SCG.
Rohit Sharma batted in the nets on Wednesday and showed no signs of discomfort from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for the limited-overs portion of the tour and the first two tests. He’s a chance to open in a straight swap for Mayank Agarwal, who has tallied just 31 runs in four innings.
India could also put a different spin on its bowling attack depending on who is picked to replace paceman Umesh Yadav, who joined fellow fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma on the injured list. Mohammed Siraj took five wickets in his debut test last week and should support Jasprit Bumrah. That leaves the selectors with a decision over whether to add another paceman or go with an extra spinner to work with Ravichandran Ashwin on a wicket that has traditionally taken spin.
Australia’s bowling attack is settled, but the batting department is due for an overhaul.
Paine indicated David Warner was ready to come back from a groin injury that has sidelined the veteran opener for the first two tests. He could be partnered at the top of the Australian order by 22-year-old Will Pucovski, who has passed concussion protocols and looms as a stronger contender to make his test debut in Sydney after Joe Burns was dropped from the squad following a lean spell of runs.
That could also mean a change to the middle-order, with Matthew Wade — a makeshift opener in Adelaide and Melbourne — either batting lower or being dropped, or Travis Head losing his spot at No. 5.
Australia can regain test cricket’s top ranking with a series win, and India needs a 3-1 win to move to No. 1. New Zealand took No. 1 spot for the first time on Wednesday by completing consecutive sweeps of West Indies and Pakistan at home.
Despite the high stakes, there’s no chance of the match being a sellout. The state government has insisted the crowd capacity has be lowered to 25% at the SCG — and all fans must wear masks — because of a recent COVID-19 outbreak in parts of Sydney.